When does the soul enter a person ... at the moment of conception, at sometime following conception, or do we really not know?
There is a limit to what God has told us in the Scriptures about our souls. Yet he has made plain to us certain facts, some of which I believe address your question. I’d like to direct you to three texts which should be read in context, rather than grabbed as proof texts.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7)
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. (Eccl. 12:7)
Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him. (Zech. 12:1)
Greek philosophers taught that a soul was eternal, that is it had no beginning or end. The Bible teaches the contrary truth; namely that souls are created, and thereafter never cease to exist.
You might have noticed that the first and second texts quoted above present God as breathing or expirating the spirit or soul into man. According to Genesis 2:7, this is when the first man became a living being. Undoubtedly much anthropomorphism is employed in these verses. Ecclesiastes 12, quoted above, makes a similar point, albeit from the “other end” of life. Good and necessary reasoning flowing from Genesis 2:7 and Ecclesiastes 12:7 should lead us to understand Zechariah 12:1 in similar manner. We can therefore conclude that the giving of the soul either brought life or was contemporaneous with the giving of life. In fact the Hebrew noun for life and soul are the same—yes, other verbs and such are used, but the noun found here is used for both soul or spirit and life. Therefore, in answer to your question, the soul enters into a person when life begins—at conception—and leaves the person when life ends: death. It is this which separates humans from animals.
Related to this, Scripture teaches that we are created with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness and true holiness. God makes man and God gives each man a spirit or soul. The spirit or soul is a reasoning, ethical, and intellectual aspect of a person. The wise Job said, “But there is a Spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding” (Job 32:8). In fact, man’s reasoning, ethical and intellectual soul is a necessary part of personhood. Elihu when addressing Job said, “No one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of heaven?’ ” (Job 35:10–11) Man’s soulishness is what gives him his human personal existence, distinct from the animal creation. A person cannot be human and not have a soul.
Scripture teaches us more than the little I have presented here, and to be fair, more could have been extracted from these passages than I have. I hope this has helped and would encourage you to study these portions (and all of God’s Word) further.
"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.
The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.
At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those people who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)
The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.
While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.
You will receive an answer by e-mail. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two (2) weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.
Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been editedall personal references are removed, Scripture references or from some source may be added, and sometimes portions are expandedto make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.